Experience does not equal a job skill

By Scot Herrick | Job Skills

May 06

Experience, told by those with lots of experience, trumps everything. When angry, experienced people yell at clouds in the job market for not getting work, experience is the mantra. Not job skills. Not fitting in with the team. Not the motivation to do the work. Nope. Experience. Experience trumps everything and experienced people yelling at clouds yell it the loudest. To quote Shakespeare, I think they doth protest too much.

Now, I have a lot of experience. That experience covers an awful lot of ground. But I will also tell you this: experience is the sauce. It is not the steak. No matter what experienced people who yell at clouds about the job market may say.

Without job skills, your experience doesn’t matter

You can talk all you’d like about your thirty years of programming mainframes (and make a good living at it even today!), but programming mainframes does not mean you have a job skill for programming in a client-server environment.

You can talk all you’d like about your thirty years being a nurse in a general hospital environment, but that doesn’t mean you are at a skill level in an emergency room.

And, to go one step further, you can talk all you’d like about your fifteen years of project management skills in a small company, but it doesn’t mean you can project manage a multi-million dollar project using project methodologies in a large company.

It is easy to sit on the laurels of experience than do the work

Too often, experienced people sit on their laurels thinking they don’t need to learn new job skills. They are in the job, after all, so what is there to learn?

In case one doesn’t notice, time marches on. What was a perfectly acceptable standard in the 1970’s – not having seat belts in a car — is simply not acceptable as a standard today where seat belt use is required. Look at what children are learning in school — and the grade they are learning it in — today versus when you were in school.

Check out your resume compared to job postings (say, on Dice) and see what job skills you have versus the skills needed on the job description. If you don’t get enough check marks next to those job skills, your resume will get thrown into the trash heap. And then you’ll yell at clouds about having experience and not getting the work.

Part of job skills is learning new technology

Experience doesn’t overcome learning technology — it just shows an attitude of an unwillingness to learn. To use a personal example, my mother has never learned how a computer works, never owned one, and saw no need to learn how one works twenty years ago. Now my family — and all of her grandchildren — spend their time on Facebook, sharing stories, pictures and the events in their lives and she has no access to any of it.

Experienced people get like that in their jobs as well. “Why learn that new Microsoft Office version — I already know how to use Microsoft 2003!”, they say.

Experience counts — but not that much

If you are one of those experienced people not getting work who are out there yelling at clouds about how your experience should count, I’d suggest you change your story. Take a hard look at the job skills you are showing on your resume (all your job skills are on your resume, aren’t they?) compared to the job descriptions for the work you do now and see how well they match up. And then figure out how to get the skills you need to compete in today’s job market.

Let the sauce of your experience show in the stories you tell about the results you get from your work. Let the sauce of your experience show an interviewer the soft skills you have of working with a team. Let your experience show how much you still long to learn (you do want to learn, right?) more job skills.

That’s how to use your experience — as sauce that enhances the meat of your job skills.

  • Tony says:

    I totally agree with this, unfortunately hiring managers (or at least recruiters for that matter) don’t seem to agree with you. I don’t know how many times I have been rejected recently by hiring managers because I don’t have experience in “x” industry.

    By the time you get to someone at my “level” (senior management/executive), the number of available positions in your given space drops substantially. In many cases, the only way to move up the corporate ladder after a while is to make a move to another industry. 
    Now I can’t say this is the case for every field, but in my chosen one (marketing), it seems like if you can write a case study, pull together a PowerPoint deck, or compile a data sheet, you should be able to do it for any industry if you are given the right support framework. For jobs like mine, it’s probably an asset that you don’t have that experience because you have a fresh set of eyes.

    I don’t know how many times I have seen collateral written by one company that seems to be replicated by others almost verbatim. Is it no surprise why people think that anyone could be a marketer — after all, it’s the same people pushing the same tired message over and over again.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      I agree that the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the fewer available positions open. I always wondered when I could get to a high enough level to warrant an employment contract — giving me enough financial cushion to find the next gig at the same employment contract level. Alas, not there yet.

      I haven’t figured out how to get rid of poor practices by recruiters and hiring managers. One just has to be aware of the attitudes and prepare as you can. Unless you are in marketing ;+)

  • Dave Doolin says:

    In an industry where the required skills change very rapidly, choosing the right skill to master is very difficult. 

    Choosing the wrong skill to master could cost 6 figure lost opportunity (or more) over one’s career.

    Scot, I’m finding a lot to like here as I transition from freelancing back into the work force.

  • Excellent article. I recall quite a few companies adopting the “experience above everything else” mantra during the recession. Quite incorrect.

  • Michael Guidera says:

    The Australian Hockey coach Rick Charlesworth had the same belief in the value of experience when picking his teams. It didnt matter to him whether a player had 100 matches at international level or 5, he picked someone to do a job for the team.

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